Why moving too much matters for children


Imagine moving six times in six years. It seems like you’d never really get unpacked before you had to pack up again. Moving vans, crumpled newspaper, address change forms. Finding a new bank, grocery store or a new school for your children. Six years of always being the “new kid” in class.

A new report from the Center for Housing Policy shows that a lot of poor families are in this situation–moving so often it’s actually having a detrimental effect on their children. The study found that half of children in poor families had moved in the last 24 months, compared with only a third of higher-income families.

What’s one of the main reasons for their moves? Housing instability. Not having a stable place to live that’s affordable and safe caused many families to move, making their children more likely to miss school and become involved in crime, like vandalism, prostitution, mugging, drug use and gangs.

It seems that there’s more to the hassle of moving than just finding enough cardboard boxes.

There’s lots of stories in the report of individuals who have experienced the kind of disjointed life that constant moving brings. One of those is Colleen.

Colleen grew up living in public housing, but she and her mom were evicted when she was just 14 because her mom didn’t pay the rent. From there, they drifted from homeless shelters, doubling up with family and friends, or sometimes living in the hallway of their old development.

Now she’s 24 with three children–two sons and another on the way. Since her first son was born, she’s moved 17 times. He’s now been placed in a mental hospital for children, while her other son lives with his grandfather.

Her childhood of constant moves and unstable housing has been replicated for her own children. It sounds like Colleen’s family perhaps had other problems than just unstable housing. But how much would a continous, safe place to live made a difference in her life?

“Housing instability does not occur in a vacuum and, rarely, is housing insecurity the only challenge that individuals and families have at any one time,” said researcher Lawson Clark.

But moving can have a lasting impact on children. The report found that children who move between the ages of 4 and 15 have a lower likelihood of finishing high school. Their families experience higher levels of stress, which may impact their health, the report says. Children with chronic heath problems may have treatment or health care interrupted by moving.

Not all moves are bad ones. A lot of the families in the report moved for good reasons–moving to a new house, becoming a home owner, going to a better school district. In one survey, three out of 10 families made “up and out” moves, meaning they left where they were for something better. But other moves are unplanned, like a disaster or an eviction. Those kind of moves seem to have detrimental effects on children. Take a look:

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Affordable housing had a big impact on whether families moved or stayed in their neighborhood. A family that lost a housing voucher are 10 times more likely to move. Families that had trouble making a utility, rent or mortgage payment were also much more likely to have to move.

Of course, affordable housing isn’t the silver bullet to fix this problem. But having a stable, safe place to live may be a good start, says Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“The well-being of families and children is dependent upon a platform of safe, decent and affordable housing,” Roman said. “If we want our children to do well in school, to be healthy, and to thrive we will have to do a much better job of ensuring that they have a home to come back to every night.”

Photo credit: David Goehring

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